India and France Strike Ground-breaking Jet Engine Agreement

By Consultants Review Team Monday, 29 January 2024

Jawed Ashraf, India's ambassador to France, highlighted a major milestone in the two nations' defense and aerospace cooperation on the fringes of President Emmanuel Macron's visit to India. Fighter jet engine manufacturer Safran has consented to a full technology transfer to India for the duration of their joint venture. This action is significant because it might strengthen India's defense technology self-sufficiency and strengthen the strategic alliance between the two countries.

Unlike India's prior jet engine partnerships, Safran and India's technology transfer deal for the Shakti jet engine project is noticeably extensive. Safran is dedicated to transferring all technology, including vital information in the design, development, certification, and production phases, in addition to manufacturing methods. This kind of thorough transfer, which goes beyond the purview of conventional technology transfers that can mainly concentrate on assembly or production procedures, is essential for building new jet engines. It includes the attention on the actual design phase and metallurgical concerns.

Additionally, the technology transfer would be seamlessly integrated with India's future defense objectives because this transaction is strategically aligned with the country's long-term defense goals. The meetings between French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have strengthened the strategic alignment between France and India in the larger framework of defense cooperation. This multifaceted partnership goes beyond a single project focus and aims to build a collaborative development and production ecosystem. Examples of the cooperation include the joint development of combat aircraft engines and industrial cooperation for heavy-lift helicopters under the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) program.

However, why is the design and production of a jet engine so challenging? First, thermal control is essential because jet engines run at very high temperatures. It is imperative to develop materials and coatings—like the carbon-based coatings indicated for China's military aircraft engines—that can endure temperatures higher than 1,800 degrees Celsius. At high temperatures, these materials' mechanical qualities and structural integrity must be preserved to guarantee engine longevity and dependability.

Second, because the engine parts are composed of superalloys - complex metal mixes intended to function effectively in high-stress, high-temperature conditions—the metallurgical aspects are very difficult. For instance, to reduce creep and thermal fatigue, single-crystal superalloys are frequently utilized in turbine blades. These single-crystal superalloys are produced using complex casting and processing methods, which are costly and time-consuming to create. India has encountered challenges in the development and acquisition of superalloys and materials that are capable of withstanding the severe conditions seen in a jet engine. India has fallen behind other countries in important areas like the application of thermal barrier coatings and the creation of single crystal blades because of industrial and technological constraints.

Third, advanced jet engines have parts with intricate geometry intended to maximise performance and efficiency. Producing these complex forms, especially for turbine blades with internal cooling channels, calls for difficult-to-learn advanced fabrication processes like electron beam melting (EBM) and selective laser melting (SLM).

Fourth, modern jet engines depend on precise production methods like blisk (bladed disc) fabrication. By lowering weight and part count, blinkers enhance engine performance; yet, they necessitate sophisticated machining and fabrication techniques, including 5-axis CNC milling or additive manufacturing (3D printing), which can be difficult to learn.

Fifth, the materials used in jet engines are subject to severe mechanical loads and corrosive conditions in addition to high temperatures, which can eventually cause fatigue and failure. One of the main challenges is creating materials and coatings that can withstand these circumstances and increase the engine's useful life.

Sixth, for the engine to operate efficiently, the compressor and turbine blades' aerodynamic designs are essential. In order to maximise efficiency and performance throughout a range of operating situations, the form and arrangement of the blades must be optimised through sophisticated fluid dynamic models and testing.

Seventh, in order to preserve the integrity of engine components, efficient cooling systems are essential. Intricate design and manufacturing skills are required for technologies like film cooling, which passes cold air across turbine blade surfaces after being bled from the compressor. These are necessary to build the small pores and channels that the cooling air must pass through.

Eighth, enormous centrifugal forces must be tolerated by the rotating parts of a jet engine, such as the turbine and compressor discs and blades. It takes complex materials science and structural analysis to design these parts so they can withstand mechanical stresses over the course of the engine's operation and avoid resonance frequencies.

Ninth, sophisticated electronic control systems that monitor and modify engine parameters in real time for optimal performance are used to operate modern jet engines. It is quite difficult to develop the hardware and software for these systems, guarantee their dependability, and integrate them with the other systems in the aircraft.

The agreement with Safran will assist India in resolving each of these difficulties. India has always relied on foreign companies like GE to provide cutting-edge jet engines for aircraft like Tejas, thus this partnership represents a significant step towards the country's technological independence and self-sufficiency. India is poised to become a leader in aerospace technology by gaining extensive expertise in design, development, and manufacturing processes. This shift is a calculated move to reduce risks brought on by external dependence in crucial defense domains, not merely a reflection of technological progress.

Furthermore, this agreement highlights France's and India's strong and diverse relationship and their shared commitment to strengthening strategic partnerships. The agreement is more than just a business deal; it is evidence of the two countries' mutual trust and shared goal for a safe and technologically sophisticated future. This partnership serves as a shining example of India's larger foreign policy approach, highlighting the significance of developing a variety of global alliances. India's strategy of fostering partnerships with multiple global powers is indicative of its attitude of not solely relying on one nation for its strategic defense needs. By securing India's strategic independence and strengthening its defense capacities through a flurry of multilateral alliances, this sensible and balanced strategy sets a new benchmark for international defense cooperation.


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